The North Carolina-based pop-rock artist and singer-songwriter John Foley releases his enlightened 5-track EP, 'Spirits,' conceptually and artistically akin to his 2018 project, 'Specters.'
Growing up, Foley would fend off fear and rejection with the solace that singing and songwriting had to offer. He kept his singer-songwriter side hidden until college, but today he emerges as a complex lyricist who uses his soulful vocals, intimate lyrics, and dynamic pop-rock hooks to convey themes of longing, sadness, healing, and escapism. Recently releasing his 5-track EP, 'Spirits,' the project is said to nod at his previous EP, 'Specters,' but offers a lighter and more aware approach.
Jumping into the project, the EP opens with the introductory track, "Hey Little Witch." The song blasts through our speakers right off the bat with John Foley's powerful and captivating vocals alongside his soulful and heavy rock instrumentals that pound us to the ground. The overall tone offers this 60s folk-rock mystique that sends us into sonic flames. The mystical and storytelling lyrics offer this whole other aspect to the song that's equally intriguing, especially as Foley belts his emotive vocals overtop of the melodic bass licks, punchy drums, organ-like keys, and bluesy lead guitar.
Track number two, "Aces High," was also the project's lead single and offers a more mysterious and dreamy approach through Foley's upfront and emotional vocals alongside his slow-burn lead guitar and quivering keyboard melodies. As the drums continue to pour the utmost emotion and soul through our speakers, Foley jumps into the hook and proceeds to sing metaphors for feeling out of sync with his surroundings. We love how Foley imagines these scenarios as a gamble, as life tends to be just as, if not more, unpredictable. The crunchy lead guitar takes our souls for a spin on the bridge while Foley and his instrumentals chug their way to the outro.
Onto the next track, "Another Lover," the song kicks off with a foot-stomping and powerful instrumental through the punchy drum patterns, bright piano melodies, glimmering electric guitars, and a tasteful acoustic guitar. The overall Americana/country vibe rounds out the EP perfectly, especially as Foley passionately sings of a relationship's trials and tribulations. We love the song's powerful emotion, as it leaves us chanting Foley's lyrics alongside the catchy and memorable hook. Making his way to the outro, Foley puts his past behind him and grooves to the bright lead guitar while closing the song on an optimistic note.
Channeling a more gritty and heavy tone with the next track, "Follow the Water," the song takes off with a bright and melodic electric guitar alongside the midtempo drums and soulful acoustic guitar. As Foley begins to take the track by storm with his imaginative lyrics, he brings us into a supernatural journey that fluidly leads us into the vast unknown. We can similarities to the emotion and soul of songs like the Animals' "House of The Rising Sun," especially as the instrumentals break down and emphasize Foley's soul-clutching performance. We love the textured guitar solo on the bridge, as it brings a dash of color into this blues-ridden piece.
Landing on the final track of the EP, "What Fades Away," the song soulfully opens with heavy downtempo drums, an eerie keyboard melody, and Foley's low and emotional vocals that sing of being lost in life and trying to make sense of the world around him. As the drums begin to pick up on the hook alongside the rich guitar solo, they take us on an epic adventure that's equally as thrilling as it is sonically satisfying. This track is the perfect mysterious and reflective track to close the project, as it leaves us basking in Foley's pent-up emotions while relating with them in every way possible.
Experience the soul and range of John Foley's 5-track EP, 'Spirits,' now available on all digital streaming platforms.
Thank you for joining us at BuzzMusic John Foley, and congratulations on releasing such a dense and soulful listening experience with your latest 5-track EP, 'Spirits.' Was there an overall concept or theme that you wanted to convey throughout this project?
I see this EP, and my two previous ones, as more of a collection of stories rather than a unified concept. That being said both 'Specters' and 'Spirits' EPs have a running theme of feeling existential and kind of lost in life not knowing what to do or how things will turn out. I used to think that all my songs were just stories entirely removed from my life, but looking back at them now I definitely see that I was writing about myself, just through the lens of someone else’s life or a different person’s story, and I think that was a way for me to write what I was feeling without being as exposed or vulnerable about what I was writing.
We've heard that 'Spirits' was recorded at the same time as your previous EP, 'Specters.' At the time, did you know that you were going to use half of your recorded content for a completely different project?
So the initial plan was to do a single album, 'Specters & Spirits.' As the recording went on and we finished the first five songs before the second batch it seemed to make more sense from a release standpoint to get some music out before waiting for the whole project to finish. The two are definitely still related though, particularly with the last track of Specters (Practical Magic) being the first half of a story that the first track of 'Spirits' ("Hey Little Witch") finishes. In "Practical Magic," someone sells their soul to the devil for magical powers and the song ends with a warning that the devil always gets his due. In "Hey Little Witch," sung from the perspective of the devil, he comes to collect on that promise. Those two songs bridge the gap between the two EPs but you can definitely see similar themes throughout both projects, especially with Specters’ Pull Me In, Days Gone By, and Midnight Oil having that same existentialism as Aces High and What Fades Away on Spirits.
Were any of your lyrics or instrumentals for 'Spirits' recorded/added after your initial recording session, or did you solely choose from the content you had already recorded?
What "Fades Away" was the last song to finish recording, and the guitar part you hear on the final version was the very last thing to record. We had maybe four or five different guitarists record for that song, and they were all great players but for one reason or another just didn’t quite fit the mood or presence we were looking for to fill in the instrumental sections on that song. What Fades Away has the most instrumental breaks out of any song on either project so we knew the guitar had to be really really strong and that it would either carry the song or leave it feeling empty. So after hearing and recording multiple a couple takes on it, I asked my friend and former bandmate Scott Paris to take a swing at it and after the first take, we knew he was the one to round out the song. It would’ve been a totally different song without him and we even had a really happy accident when some feedback after the first solo just perfectly bridged the gap between that first instrumental break and the third verse (it’s just before the 1:50 mark in the song). When that happened the producer, Ryan Chabon, and I just looked at each other with these big stupid grins on our faces. Another Lover was also one that we were kind of stumped on for a while. We had the main vocal parts and the full track down but it still felt like it was missing something vital. After listening to it a few times in the studio I had the idea to add an Eagles style harmony to the chorus and that really helped give the song a more dynamic flow.
Could you describe the moment that inspired you to create this nod to 'Specters' with 'Spirits?' What inspired this sort of continuation or sonic series?
I’ve always loved supernatural, paranormal, and magical themes. Growing up I can’t tell you how many times I read Lord of The Rings and similar books and I loved shows about witches and magic like Charmed, Supernatural, and the Melissa Joan Heart Sabrina series (among a bunch of others). That sort of magical escapism has always been in my music, with Premonition off the first EP being the first song to explicitly bring in those themes.
The initial idea with Specters & Spirits was to have the songs split into a “darker” half (Specters) and “lighter” half (Spirits). Looking at the tracklists now, there’s not really a strong divide between themes or moods on the EPs and they still feel like one album to me rather than two separate EPs, with the Premonition EP fitting in as well. Every song across those first three releases were written at a similar time in my life and Spirits feels like it closes the book on that “era” of songs where I was basically unintentionally writing about myself. The songs I have written and am currently writing for the next album have shifted to being very openly and personally about me, and I’m really excited to move into a more vulnerable type of writing.
How does the recent EP, 'Spirits,' reflect your current outlook and view on life itself? Would you say that this project displays a more positive side to yourself?
It’s a little weird talking about how 'Spirits' reflects me as a person just because of how long a process it’s been. Some of the songs, like "Aces High," I don’t even remember writing at this point so it takes some mental gymnastics to bring myself back to the person I was four or five years ago while writing these songs. So I would say the EP doesn’t truly reflect my current outlook on life, but more so captured how I was feeling during a very transitive period in my life. The EP was mostly written while I was in college and trying to figure out my life, what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, and who I wanted to be in general which is why there’s so much of that existentialism and feelings of being lost in most of the songs. I do think there is at least a little bit of a positive shift form 'Specters to Spirits' however, with "What Fades Away" being more of an acceptance of the feelings of being lost--kind of a come what may outlook rather than a panicked or depressive outlook that can be heard in "Pull Me In" and "Days Gone By" from 'Specters.' "Another Lover" is certainly a more positive song than the rest of the bunch and it feels to me like a bonus track that looks forward to the next era. In my mind "What Fades Away" is really the last song on 'Spirits.' Even though "Another Lover" is a breakup song, the whole message is essentially to not dwell on the past (even if you’re still bitter about it) and being like “okay I may not have closure on what just ended but I have to accept that and move on anyway.” It hints to the next album as well which, as I mentioned before, will be more directly personal and dig deeper into a lot of the topics I sort of gloss over or allude to in 'Spirits.'